Gustav Edward Herzer, 89, English professor at Loyola


Gustav Edward Herzer, a revered Loyola College English professor known to his students as "Uncle Gus," died of respiratory failure Monday at the Glen Meadows retirement community in Glen Arm. The former Homeland resident was 89.

Mr. Herzer, a colorful lecturer who peppered his talks with references to the writings of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, also was an early audiophile. He built his own high-fidelity sound equipment and often showed his students how to construct amplifiers and receivers.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Guilford Avenue, he was a 1934 Polytechnic Institute graduate. He worked at the Wolfe-Mann Manufacturing Co. before earning a degree in English and history at St. John's College in Annapolis in 1938, where he graduated with honors and took the Hodgson Cup for Excellence in English. He was also awarded the school's Essay Prize in the division of language, literature and art. He earned a master's degree from Harvard University.

At Harvard, family members said, one of his classmates was John F. Kennedy, and they attended a history class together. The future president once borrowed the price of a book from Mr. Herzer, who said the future president paid it back. Mr. Herzer remained a Democrat throughout his life and often discussed politics.

Mr. Herzer enrolled in a Johns Hopkins University doctoral program in the early 1940s, and during World War II he worked on aircraft electronics systems at the Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River. Despite his proficiency in engineering and electronics, Mr. Herzer did not remain in the field, preferring literature and history.

He joined the Loyola College faculty in 1946, was named an assistant professor of English in 1948 and served as department chairman from 1949 to 1952.

"His students would never forget him," said John Plunkett, a former student who was later a Sun editor. "He really was the ideal teacher. People respected him universally, and his students quoted him for years."

Mr. Herzer specialized in English and American cultural and intellectual history. He taught courses on Jonathan Swift, Twain and Chaucer.

"He had an elegant sense of humor," said John McGrain, another former student who is a Baltimore County historian. "He shared his knowledge and told us the secret of management was being nice to people."

Mr. McGrain also recalled that when hi-fi arrived in the 1940s, Mr. Herzer constructed an amplifier, tuners and speakers in what had been a former chapel. He explained the workings to any student who took an interest in what became known informally as Gus' Wax Works.

Family members said that Mr. Herzer met journalist H.L. Mencken, whose writings he admired, as well as novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, who resided in Baltimore at times in the 1930s.

Mr. Herzer attended the University of Maryland in College Park from 1954 to 1955 and resumed teaching at Loyola. He retired in 1965 at age 49.

Family members said that Mr. Herzer described himself as a fanatic of lacrosse and baseball and classical music. He spent hours at the old Doubleday book store on York Road in a listening booth previewing the long-playing records he purchased for his personal music library. He closely followed the stock market and made investments. He also was an amateur photographer.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

Mr. Herzer never married.

Survivors include a nephew, Jonathan Feldmann of Hunt Valley; and three nieces, Susan F. Thompson of Ruxton, Ellen F. Roberts of Stoneleigh and Jane F. Cook of Towson. Mr. Herzer also helped raise a nephew, Frank Feldmann, who died in 1999.

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